First, you bring the perps into the… wait. No.  Baseball lineups.  Ok.

As has been discussed on numerous game previews and game threads on this very site, we all know that lineup construction doesn’t matter that much.  Depending on the person giving the estimate, the difference between the optimal lineup and the worst possible lineup is probably on the magnitude of 2.5 wins per season.  Given that even the most clueless of managers won’t bat Joey Votto in the 9-hole, a theoretical “worst possible lineup” is never created. The true effect of lineup optimization over an average “old-school” type lineup is on the magnitude of 1 win per season.  Certainly not a huge deal, but why leave a win on the table?  Lineup construction is low-hanging fruit.  Pick it!

The guts of what I’ll present were discussed in great detail in The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, the seminal sabermetrics tome from Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin.   They use the idea of “RE24” for optimal lineup construction.  RE24 stands for “Run Expectancy for the 24 base-out States.”  For example, “bases empty, 1 out” is one of the 24 base-out states; “bases loaded, 2 outs” is one of the 24 base-out states.   When transitioning from one base-out state to another base-out state via a trigger (a walk, perhaps), the run expectancy of the remainder of the inning is either increased or decreased. Good events increase run expectancy and bad events (outs) decrease run expectancy.  Given that certain spots in the lineup tend to come up in different situations more often, using the run expectancy changes of RE24 and the expected plate appearances of each slot, you can profile the types of guys that should bat in each slot.

From The Book;

“Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots.  The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots.  From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.”

So, there we have it.  Seems simple, right? The main departure from the RE24 method and traditional lineup construction is the role of the #3 hitter.  Old-school types will say the #3 hitter should be the best hitter in the lineup.  Makes some sense, given the idea that in the 1st inning, the #3 hitter has the role of last-resort; getting on base to extend the inning for the cleanup hitter.

However, under the guise of RE24, the #3 hitter has the highest percentage of plate appearances in the “bases empty, two outs” base-out state.  This is the state where positive actions, like a walk or a hit, have the least relative positive effect.  So, batting your best hitter 3rd actually lessens his overall effectiveness.

With that in mind, who are the Reds three best hitters likely to break camp with the team?  That’s a tough question past the best hitter.  Any of Devin Mesoraco, Eugenio Suarez, Brandon Phillips, or Jay Bruce could be considered for 2nd and 3rd best hitters. Perhaps even Adam Duvall or Scott Schebler creeps into the discussion if we’re talking and LHP/RHP platoon splits. Because of this reality, it’s pretty hard to make a totally bad lineup.  That is, unless you bat one of the worst Reds hitters in the #1 slot…

“[Billy Hamilton] is going to get every shot to be the leadoff guy.” – Bryan Price

Hmm.  Well, given the reality of the Reds situation, let’s construct a few lineups, keeping in mind that they SHOULD change based on the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher:

Jeter’s View of Optimal Lineup against Righties
1-Votto
2-Suarez
3-Bruce
4-Mesoraco
5-Schebler/LF Platoon
6-Phillips
7-Cozart
8-P
9-Hamilton

Jeter’s View of Optimal Lineup against Lefties
1-Votto
2-Mesoraco
3-Suarez
4-Duvall/LF Platoon
5-Phillips
6-Bruce
7-Cozart
8-P
9-Hamilton

Votto is so much better than every other hitter, the only real answer is to give him the most possible plate appearances in the season.  Also, according to RE24, the time that a  walk is at its highest relative value is when the bases are empty and there are no outs.  Like in the 1st inning.  In that situation, a walk is literally as good as a base hit.  In that situation, Votto is essentially a .400 hitter.

Hamilton 9th makes sense for a few reasons.  First, from things I’ve read over the years, the benefit of having a real hitter batting 9th in front of your best hitters at the top of the lineup outweighs giving more PAs to the pitcher in the 8th slot, or being forced to go to a pinch hitter earlier.  Second, Hamilton’s skills are vastly diminished batting in front of a pitcher.  If Hamilton ever reaches with 2 outs, he’s very unlikely to be driven in, even if he steals 2nd and 3rd base. Having Billy on base with a real hitter at the dish needs to be the Reds new “market inefficiency.”

Since we all know Votto will never leadoff, here’s where we are with Hamilton leading off:

1-Hamilton
2-Votto
3-Suarez
4-Mesoraco
5-Bruce
6-Duvall/Schebler/LF Platoon
7-Phillips
8-Cozart
9-P

Without Hamilton at the bottom, having the pitcher hit 9th is likely better, since Cozart has a little pop.

Tuesday’s spring training game (!) featured Votto batting 3rd and BP batting 4th.  As we discussed at the onset, this isn’t a huge deal.  However, doing something like that might turn the Reds into a 64-win team instead of a 65-win team.  Don’t give up that win, Bryan!

Discuss!

 

 

Join the conversation! 98 Comments

  1. I don’t get too hung up on lineups, but the games where we had our worst two hitters in the one AND two holes drove me nuts.

  2. This season is a perfect opportunity to try something/anything different from the norm. Why not put Votto 1st? Why not attempt to do something strictly by the numbers when you are looking at needing to scratch and claw for additional wins. Seems like the time is right for Price to go all in with the added emphasis on analytics.

    • The general idea I’ve always heard is that managers stick with conventional approaches so that when something goes wrong he can say “I did everything the right way, what I was supposed to. We didn’t win because the players just didn’t execute or just bad luck, etc.”
      It seems like managing a team that is not expected to compete would be the perfect opportunity for the opposite kind of statement. “This team was not likely to win a lot games using conventional tactics. Trying something different may keep the players more engaged and may even give us an edge over the other teams.”

      • From your lips to Price’s ears. Why not risk being a little unconventional? #19 at the dish as many times as possible only makes sense to me.

      • This is a very good point. This phenomenon is seen all the time in football when coaches make silly decisions regarding when to go for a FG vs a TD, and when to go for it on 4th and inches and when to punt. They always want to be able to deflect the criticism on the players’ performance rather than their coaching.

  3. As we saw yesterday, BP hitting behind Votto is going to mean so many double plays. As BP is primarily a singles hitter, I’d rather see him hit ahead of Votto so that first base might be occupied and force the pitcher to be a bit more aggressive.

    • BP had an RBI single in the 1st.
      He scorched a ball right at the 2nd baseman in his 2nd plate appearance. for a DP

      Anybody that hits behind Votto is going to ground into more double plays than behind anyone else.

      • This is true, but especially a hitter with BP’s profile. Swing early and often, put the ball in play.

  4. “Give ME the keys……..”

    Name that movie.

  5. I have two things to say:

    1. Votto should lead off
    2. I have gone ahead and put The Book: Playing the Percentages of Baseball on hold at the library.

    Go Reds!

    • Nice, Ian! It’s certainly “heavy reading” in some spots.

    • Every day and twice on Sunday, They have the best leadoff hitter in the league, and refuse to use him as such. Let that high OBP do what it’s supposed to do.

  6. Why do you build up the book as the guide to follow then stray from it when constructing the lineup by putting Hamilton in the 9 hole? I know you give your rationale, by why is it ok for you to depart from it there (unless you are saying the pitcher is a better hitter) but not ok to depart from it somewhere else, like Votto 3rd for example? Not an attack, but seems you either buy in to the theory or you don’t.

    • I can’t discuss everything in The Book ad nauseam in a short column like this, but there is support for batting the pitcher 8th in some situations.

      Also, trying to identify who the 2nd-through-8th best hitters in the lineup is hard to do with so many question marks, so the principles are what matters, in my opinion.

      • Also, the key to analytics (in my humble opinion) is to understand when you have a “special situation” that might deviate from the available data. Billy Hamilton is such a deviation. Last year he put up the best base running value season ever, per time on base, and he’s a terrible hitter. This isn’t your stereotypical guy that should be lumped into the 6th through 9th tranche.

        • It’s actually really doubtful that he had the best base running season ever. Though most sites use a particular number and pretend it extends back forever, detailed base running data doesn’t go back that far. So, Rickey Henderson, for instance, isn’t getting credit for taking extra bases and avoiding double plays and whatnot. Just for his steals and his success rate.

        • Fair enough, Jason.

          Although, I’d hope at this point folks realize the phrase “ever” means “given the available data we have.”

  7. Very fascinating read. I would guess that the average manager would get one win per season on this method. But you get a very astute manager, and he might be able to squeeze 3-5 wins out this. The outlier. At a season’s end, now that might make a difference between division winner, wild card team, or not even making the playoffs just within that margin.
    Anointing BHam the leadoff hitter this early is a bit confounding and confusing. He should have to go out and earn it through his performance.
    It would be very satisfying to see the Reds employ a little of this during spring training. Maybe we all can chip in and buy the coaching staff a few of these books. Maybe a GoFund account or something.

    • Not sure that he’s been annointed: it sounded more like he was being given the opportunity to succeed (or fail).

      • Correct Greenmtred. Given an opportunity and anointed are far from the same.

  8. A possible idea for a future article and how the Reds pitchers are stacking up to league average or other NLC teams. Article by Ted Berg at USA Today Sports.

    http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/03/houston-astros-spin-rates-statcast-mccullers-mchugh-keuchel-mlb

    Steve did a nice piece on explaining spin rates last year and they are evolving.

    • Track man is a spectacular tool. When i was a golf professional it was beyond valuable during lessons and fitting equipment. Glad to see it has expanded to different venues.

  9. Yes, please: Votto leading off at some point this season would make everyone’s head explode.

    Good stuff, Patrick.

  10. Patrick, I have one question based on some of the line ups you proposed, and maybe you help me understand your reasoning. It involves the differences in spots for Suarez and Duvall.

    I understand identifying the Reds 2nd, 3rd, etc best hitters is tough. And for stretches of the season (say when Bruce gets on a hot streak) it may change. With that being said, by the rules laid out, you have pegged Suarez as either 2nd/3rd best hitter against RH (same handedness) but against LH (where his numbers should be better) he’s delegated to the 4th/5th best hitter with Duvall moving into the top 3 hitters.

    I understand you allowed for the platoon exception. I have also not looked up Suarez’s splits, so maybe he doesn’t have traditional platoon splits and that’s the answer. And beyond that, my eyes tell me that Suarez is the better hitter over Duvall. Although Duvall has the advantage in power, he K’s at a rate that diminishes the returns on the power. Suarez has a better ability to get on base, hit for average, and also demonstrated decent power.

    So any help in understanding the rationale you used to bat Duvall 4th and Suarez 3rd against LH would be helpful. Because I feel like I’m missing something. Thanks. And thanks for your contributions to this site.

    • Good question, Hotto. I think you have basically answered it yourself.

      Looking at projections and their overall tool-kits, I think Duvall (against LHP) just barely eeks above Suarez as being the 3rd best hitter in this lineup.

      It’s really nothing more than a guess on my part since we don’t have a ton of data for Suarez, Duvall, or Schebler. Or Mesoraco, really.

      I could easily see Suarez being the 3rd best hitter against lefties, behind Votto and Mesoraco. I could actually easily see Suarez being the 2nd best hitter in the entire lineup in all situations. Tune back in on Friday… 😉

      • Thanks for the response. I can see where Duvall’s power, especially against a LH gives him some advantage, and traditionally the #4 spot is reserved for a power hitter. I’d have Duvall hit #4 over Suarez, but I’d still think Suarez is the better hitter. Does that make sense? It’s an interesting discussion, even down to where our hitters rank.

  11. The best lineup slot for Hamilton is hitting leadoff…for the Bats.

    • Well played, Old Cossack. Well played.

    • Nice one! You’ve made your point.

      But, in reality, the best spot for BH with the Reds: late-inning pinch runner and defensive replacement and occasional starter.

      The best spot for BH’s development: With the Bats until he learns how to bunt properly, hit the ball consistently on the ground, and bat against all pitchers from only ONE side of the plate. Please end the obviously unsuccessful BH switch-hitting experiment.

  12. With the dirth of quality bats available for the Reds in 2016, lineup optimization almost becomes an oxymoron. Right now, the best options for the #1 and #2 holes (assuming Votto is out of that discussion) will hope to get on base at a league average rate, maybe slightly above league average if they perform better than expected. The Reds have no one in their proposed starting lineups, other than Votto, who has good on-base skills at the plate and even the average on-base skills are driven by the swing often approach at the plate. The lineup in 2017 may provide better options (Winker or bust), but the 2016 lineup simply has to be an effort to determine if any of the existing players can hit at the major league level.

    • When you’re right, you’re right. And you are right.

      I think it’s a fun topic, though, for internet baseball nerds like us!

      • And an Old Nerd at that, in the Old Cossack’s case…

        Kudos again for the excellent job in getting the Nation reinvigorated this spring!

  13. Stay with me: Joey leads off, Suarez moves him around more often than not, Jay Bruce gets more RBI opportunities, Bruce’s trade value sky-rockets at the All Star break, Reds trade him for the hero yet to be named of 2017 and we dethrone the Cubs. Done.

  14. I loved this: “Because of this reality, it’s pretty hard to make a totally bad lineup. That is, unless you bat one of the worst Reds hitters in the #1 slot…”

    My favorite hypothetical lineup would be as follows:

    Votto
    Mesoraco
    Suarez
    Bruce
    Phillips
    Schebler
    Cozart
    P
    Hamilton

    • If Bruce reverts back to his 2010-2013 form, this looks like a winner.

    • I like that lineup. Can you imagine the fallout if Votto/Mes were hitting 1-2? Twitter would melt down. Best hitter leading off, slowest hitter batting second.

  15. I still think the Reds ought to sign Eddie Gaedel, Jr., call him up every road trip, bat him lead off, and then have Billy Hamilton pinch run for him. It would be a lead-off double almost every game.

    The baseball rule against it would be illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Not really holding my breath, though.

  16. I have been an advocate of Votto to hit 2nd for several seasons now. Votto should not lead off because it more or less nullifies his potential contributions to RBI. Don’t know if you know, but Votto hits a lot of doubles and the occasional HR, which would mean instant runs when Votto comes up with someone on (any) base.

    So no, Votto shouldn’t lead off. Put someone in the leadoff spot who can get on, and let Votto either walk them to 2nd, single them to 2nd/3rd, double them to 3rd/home, or drive them in with a HR.

    That would be a much better use of his skillset.

    • Votto’s “skillset” is getting on base. Sure, he has some power and that’s good. But he doesn’t have exceptional power. He DOES have exceptional on-base skills. Maximizing that skill set is likely the best course of action, because as you present it, what “can” happen is not generally what “will” happen.

      Sure, in magical Christmas land, everyone gets on base and Joey drives them in. That’s doesn’t happen often in reality unless you have high OBP guys in front of Joey. Which the Reds don’t.

      In reality, giving the most at-bats to the guy with the best offensive output far outweighs the few RBIs he’ll miss while leading off the game with a homer or double.

      Food for though: last year, 105 of the Reds’ 167 home runs came with the bases empty.

      • Votto’s hit tool and on base tool are his two best, but Votto also had the 9th highest isolated power in the NL last year. 7th most home runs in the NL.

        • With no one consistently or effectively hitting behind him or getting on base in front of him…

        • Agreed, Votto has great power numbers. But, in the spirit of the post from User1022, it feels more like an argument that since Votto has power he should hit more like 3rd or 4th, which I think is a waste since his on-base/hit tool is so much better than his power tool (even though his power tool is good).

        • I never said Votto should hit 3rd or 4th, I said he should hit 2nd. This would maximize his OBP/hit/power combo to the greatest benefit of the team. Letting Votto lead off and limiting the possibilities he may have of coming up with a runner already on (as rare as that may be). It makes such a scenario impossible in the first inning.

          Another thing to consider is how lineup placement affects the number of ABs a player will receive in a season. A leadoff hitter will receive about 12.2% of the team’s ABs while the #2 hitter will receive about 11.9%, not a huge dropoff. This continues down through the lineup with each batter receiving about 17 ABs fewer than the preceding batter in the lineup over the course of a season. You may look at this and think “Exactly! Let’s bat Joey leadoff and maximize the number of ABs he receives!”

          But as I said, this also severely limits his opportunities to use his skills to positively affect the lineup around him (read: limits his opportunities to bat with people on base) due to the fact the #9 hitter is only going to receive about 625 ABs over the course of the season.

          There is also this odd little quirk: The batter most likely to be up when the game ends is either your #2 or #3 hitter. So it’s a question of who do you want up “with the game on the line”? I’d choose Votto.

          All of this was covered on Fangraphs last year, where they concluded the best hitter in the lineup should bat 2nd or 3rd. It makes a good supplementary reading to this post:

          http://www.fangraphs.com/community/where-to-bat-your-best-hitter-a-computational-analysis-part-1/

        • Votto is the Reds’ best hitter, by far, and one of the best in the game. He would be their best h

        • Sorry. I meant to czncel the too-obvious comment, but hit post instead.

        • User1022, I know you didn’t “say” 3rd or 4th, which is why I said it “feels” like your argument is that he should hit lower in the lineup, perhaps 3rd or 4th. You bring up wasted RBI opportunity, which the 2 slot will certainly have as well. So, what you typed to me felt like an argument for hitting Votto 3rd/4th, even if you said 2nd. Sorry to put words in your mouth. Was not my intention.

          Either way, it seems we all agree Votto should not hit 3rd. 😉

          Also, I’m not sure what the value is of trying to maximize Votto’s RBI opportunities. The main variable there is people getting on base in front of him, of which we have zero players that are locks to even be average.

          Last year, batting 2nd and 3rd, 15 of Votto’s 29 HR were solo shots anyways. Another 12 of the remaining 14 were with 1 man on base. He hit 2 three-run jobs.

          Last year, 21 of his 33 doubles came with the bases empty. Another 10 of the remaining 12 came with 1 man on base. Only 7 of his 33 doubles yielded an RBI.

          I really feel like you’re thinking there would be more missed RBI opportunity than would actually happen in reality.

          Think about it… if Billy bats in front of Votto with a .285 OBP, Votto will be “leading off” the inning with no one on base anyways 71.5% of the time.

        • Also, User1022, I read that article the day it came out.

          If the Reds had a leadoff hitter capable of getting on-base at a decent clip, I agree, Votto’s maximum effectiveness would be in the #2 hole. In my professional mathematical opinion, with a bad hitter hitting leadoff (Hamilton, for example) Votto’s maximum effectiveness is in the #1 hole.

          Now, as we all know, the difference between the spots would be miniscule over a season. We’re probably arguing over less than a handful of runs here. So we can just agree to disagree.

          Also, the idea that the #2 or #3 is most likely to be up at the end of the game is a pretty poor argument, since Votto would bat before whoever is #2 or #3. He’d have the same chance to win the game, just 1 batter earlier. Maybe Votto wins the game with 1-out instead of 2-out.

          Ultimately, you can’t control when players come up. You can control how many plate appearance they receive relative to the rest of the players in their lineup.

        • I’d have Votto in the 2-hole as well. Tricky thing about Votto is he’s the best choice no matter where you put him.

        • Also, I’m not sure what the value is of trying to maximize Votto’s RBI opportunities. The main variable there is people getting on base in front of him, of which we have zero players that are locks to even be average.

          It’s true the Reds’ lineup is OBP challenged, but this doesn’t mean you should willingly reduce the potential output of your team’s best power hitter because he also happens to be your best source of OBP.

          Consider: Tom Tango, in “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball”, concluded that you don’t want to put your best overall hitter, someone who gets on base but also hits for power, in the leadoff spot, because his first plate appearances come with the bases empty and the remainder will come with fewer men on base because he’s hitting behind the No. 8 and 9 hitters. Tango et al, showed that historically the leadoff spot has far fewer PAs with men on base (36 percent, with no other spot below 44 percent) than any other lineup position, making it an ideal spot for a high-OBP but low-power hitter. Therefore, you want your best hitter, the one who blends OBP with a high ISO, in a position where he can deploy that power to knock some guys in, while also getting on base for the hitters behind him.

          Practically, what this means for the Reds is that, since they can’t put their best OBP in leadoff because he also happens to be their greatest source of power, they should put their 2nd best OBP guy in leadoff. Based on stats last year, that would be Brandon Phillips. Barring the emergence of a better option, this is probably the Reds “ideal” lineup:

          2B Phillips
          1B Votto
          3B Suarez
          C Mesoraco
          RF Bruce
          LF Schebler/Cave/Random fan from the stands
          SS Cozart
          P
          CF Hamilton

          This lineup works on a few levels. Phillips, if he continues to get on at a .328 clip, would give Votto a chance to deploy his power with more RBI opportunities than if he were leading off while also giving Votto the chance to get on base for the hitters that follow. This lineup also all but eliminates Phillips’ well-known tendency to hit into double plays. Mez, if he continues his fearsome power hitting, will give Suarez better pitches to hit since the pitcher won’t want to walk Suarez with Mez coming up. If Bruce can somehow rediscover his lost form, the lineup is looking decently solid before hitting the shakier bottom half (which is true of most teams).

          It may be “we are only arguing over a handful of runs here”, but this post was all about lineup optimization, so therefore any runs left on the table would be the less than optimal lineup.

        • ‘It may be “we are only arguing over a handful of runs here”, but this post was all about lineup optimization, so therefore any runs left on the table would be the less than optimal lineup.’

          Yes, the post is about optimization. I believe the optimal solution is Votto batting leadoff because almost everyone else on this team is somewhat likely to be below average.

          Tango’s analysis is based on average-type lineups and don’t specifically account for outlier-type players. Votto’s profile, given that he’s better at OBP than anyone else is at anything else in all of baseball, doesn’t exactly fit the type of analysis Tango does using large sets of data that essentially boil all interactions between lineup spots down to the “average player” level.

          I’ve read all his stuff, and it’s my opinion that the optimal Reds lineup given what we know now would have Votto batting leadoff.

          It’s fine that you don’t agree. But I’m not wrong. I may not be right either. 😉 No way to know. That’s why it’s a fun forum topic, I think.

          I greatly appreciate you discourse, though. Please don’t think it is unwelcome.

  17. Stephenson and Reed both pitch today. This will be exciting.
    We’ll see what speed and low OBP does at the top of the lineup today with BHam leading off and Peraza second. Another baby step to take today.

    • Should hopefully yield some interesting results!

    • At least Peraza tends to hit the ball on the ground and he has a little more pop than Hamilton. At least in my opinion. Still, I don’t think he’s the kind of guy the Reds should have been targeting. Not a big fan.

  18. I’ve always leaned more toward the “traditional” lineup. That said, Votto is a perfect “two”. I had never considered him as leadoff, and never really liked Hamilton at 9-he’s so disruptive IF ever on base. That said, Hamilton is good at 9 IF Votto lead’s off-that’s actually a great idea. With those two in place, I like Suarez, Phillips, Mesoraco, LF, Bruce, Cozart, P for 2-8. I’ve got a good feeling about this year. I’ve slowly gotten over my sickness after the dismantling of the staff…and Frazier was a favorite…wouldn’t have stung so much had we gotten a better return because Suarez IS capable…I was having flashbacks to the dismantling beginning with Perez, Gullet, and Rose way back when….but I DO like Votto at the top…like Pete w/power…RBIs be damned, since when is it bad to have your leadoff ALWAYS on base ? Plus this would silence the idiots that hate Votto taking so many walks…and wouldn’t it be great to see Hamilton on 3rd w/Votto at bat ? Let’s GO Reds…it’s 1990 all over again !!!

    • What do you think happens to Votto with Billy at 3rd (or 2nd for that matter)? 4 wide, take your base. To me our 2nd best hitter needs to bat behind Votto for this reason alone. I like Votto 2nd, Suarez 3rd, Mez 4th.

  19. One of my favorite reads on this site so far!

    I would love to see BH in the 9 hole. I like the thought behind leadoff Votto but I wonder if it might have unintended consequences, even in his approach. And he hits a lot of line drives, so we really benefit if we can just get people on base in front of him.

    If Cozart is healthy and BP doesn’t slide down the age curve, we should have a pretty good offense.

  20. After two games in the book:

    Cave => 3-6 w/ 1-2B, 2-SO, .500 OBP & 1.167 OPS in 6 PA
    Holt => 1-3 w/ 1-BB, 1-SB, .500 OBP & .833 OPS in 4 PA
    Hamilton => 0-2 w/ 1-SO in 2 PA

    It’s still early in spring training and an absurdly SSS, but….hmmmmmmmmmm…

  21. How much better is a hitter with Votto hitting behind him?
    Any data on this? I think Suarez becomes an all Star hitting in front of Votto.

    • Hard to say, because there are so many variables involved. Chief among those is the quality of the pitcher on the mound.

      The Book, mentioned in the article, says that lineup protection does not exist, at least in the classical definition of “Player X gets better pitches because Player X+1 is in the on-deck circle.”

      With that said, this piece is very interesting on Votto’s thoughts about protection: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/joey-votto-and-protection-up-front/

  22. Great article. If I can ask there are two pieces of passed down lineup construction wisdom that I am too lazy/incompetent to thoroughly google that I was wondering your thoughts on:

    1. The rationale I understood for batting your best hitter second was that IF you had someone who could get on base in front of him, his superior slugging would result in more chances to drive a run in while not significantly decreasing the number of PA your best hitter receives. Not sure if the first part applies to us, but curious about your take.

    2. The explanation I understood for batting pitcher 8 is when you had a hitter with low slugging (check) but who could get on base (heh..) and the odds were better that he would get on base from the 9 spot for the top of the lineup to drive in than the chances he would knock in the 6/7 hitters from the 8 spot. One argument against this I can see in our case is that if Hamilton is 9, our 1 and 2 hitters (one of which has to be Votto right?) will be forced to take pitches letting him try and steal, but that certainly does not improve with Hamilton leading off.

    My instinct is that Votto should be 2, Hamilton 8, with leadoff hitter TBD, but confess I have not done the work to support that intuition.

    • Good questions.

      My take on your first question is that if the Reds had a player who could get on-base at an above-average rate (perhaps without much power), they’d be best #1 and Votto #2. However, it’s likely that only Suarez, Mesoraco, and maaaaaybe Phillips and Bruce will have decent OBPs. Meso, Bruce, and Suarez all have decent power. To be honest, if BP could get on base at .340 or so (unlikely at this point in his career) I’d say he’d be a fine candidate for lead-off with Votto #2.

      Votto provides an interesting case at #1 though. It goes way beyond him being “the best hitter.” As mentioned in the article, the run expectancy increase of a walk is at its highest when the bases are empty and there are no outs, at least among easily controllable situations (for example, you get a bigger bump by walking the bases loaded, but that situations is few and far between, so planning for it makes no sense). Letting Votto walk more often in the situations where is has the largest effect on run expectancy would be a totally sweet play, in my book.

      My take on your second question is that Billy Hamilton has a unique skill set, so his handling should be done using theory, rather than hard numbers (this is something I say very rarely). No one else compares to Billy, so its hard to shoe-horn him into some pre-existing archetype. As I said in the article, Billy on 1st base with the pitcher up is likely to not lead to much. Chances are Price would order a sac bunt, moving Billy to 2nd. Well, Billy could have likely stolen that base anyways, so you’re just giving up outs for nothing. Also, even though Billy hasn’t wow’d at the plate yet, he’s still young and has a chance. I think he’ll get on base around .300 this year and for me, it’s a feel thing. Votto or whomever at the top having to take a few pitches for Billy isn’t a bad thing. Votto takes a lot of pitches anyways, right?

      Ultimately, it’s all about using the math framework to guide you, then tailoring it based on your own players strengths. Batting Votto 1st and Billy 9th takes advantage of both of their strengths (on-base and speed, respectively) while somewhat mitigating Billy’s weakness (being a major league-caliber hitter).

      Hope that wasn’t too “all over the place.”

      • Awesome stuff. Are you able to look at Votto’s career slash line in the none on, none out base-out state? Is he a markedly different batter or more generally are batters different versions of themselves and if so by how much margin?

        • In general, all players hit better with men on base than with bases empty over a large enough sample size. For example, here are 2015’s ML average batting lines:

          .264/.332/.414 (101 wRC+) with men on base
          .248/.306/.398 (93 wRC+) with bases empty

          This is true all the time. Theories range from the pitcher being in the stretch to the batter getting better pitches to hit. I think its probably a combination of a lot of things. But, it’s real

          Regarding Votto in a none-on, none-out situation, looks like ESPN will give you a split of “leading off an inning,” which doesn’t account for some rare cases like where you bat 2nd in an inning but the guy in front of you homered. But it’ll get us close:

          Votto None On, No Outs (career): .312/.394/.560 (.954 OPS)
          Votto All Situations (career): .311/.423/.534 (.957 OPS)

          Pretty close overall, trading some power for OBP when leading off an inning.

      • I have Hamilton projected at: .249/.299/.338

      • Not only not all over the place, but a tremendously convincing argument. Thanks again for the time and thoughtful analysis. Great read!

  23. Didn’t notice until now, why the heck is Winker batting 7th in a spring training lineup of mostly scrubs?

    About to watch the replay on MLB Network!

  24. My take for the five outfield spots: Schebler, Cave, Duvall, YRod and Holt. Bruce will be finally traded for some peanuts and a cheese steak sandwich. Hamilton is sent down and never heard of him again.

    • Hamilton won’t be sent down. Even being (one of) the worst hitter in the league, he’s an above-average overall player because of his defense and base running. You don’t forget about a GG-caliber CFer making league-minimum during a rebuild. There’s no upside to that move, really.

      Bruce could certainly be traded, though.

      • I do believe there’s an upside, actually multiple upsides, to sending Hamilton down, especially and specifically during a rebuild season.

        There is no dispute that Hamilton is an asset due to his speed and defense, but the use of that asset during 2016 will be wasted at the major league level and will burn an additional year of club control when Hamilton could be a valuable asset.

        Hamilton still has upside potential beyond his speed and defense, if he can tap into some on-base skills. His two PA’s in yesterday’s game showed me the same plate approach as last season. He is still swinging under the ball and popping it up and still fake bunting, putting himself in a hole and behind in the count. Hamilton may never ‘get it’ or may simply not have the capability of performaing at the major league level, but both he and the Reds need to find out. Hamilton needs to work incrementally on his plate discipline, plate approach and swing at the minor league level until he proves he will or will not be more than he is now.

        The Reds blew the real opportunity with Hamilton as much as they blew it with Chapman. No one will ever know if Chapman could have been a dominant starter and with Hamilton still trying to learn how to hit at the major league level, no one may ever know if he could have been a dominant leadoff hitter and offensive weapon.

        If he spends an entire season at AAA and makes no improvement, then he is who he is and the Reds take advantage of his existing skills of defense and speed at a minimal cost. If Hamilton does make improvement, then the Reds have an offensive catalyst and offensive weapon to bring to the field in 2017 with 4 more seasons of control before he prices himself out of Cincinnati.

        In addition, there are other options for CF that may or may not pan out, but they have proven ready for the opportunity at the major league level and the Reds have the opportunity to find out if they can produce at the major league level while Hamilton is still learning at AAA and proving if he is ready for the opportuntiy at the major league level.

        • I agree completely. The Reds have a lot to gain and little to lose by sending Hamilton to AAA.

        • I don’t think there’s any data showing that players can learn more effectively in AAA than in the majors. That’s the crux of the argument. If you think there is something magic about the minors that helps people learn, then Billy going to AAA is a good thing. If you don’t think the minors are magic, the big league club is the place to be.

          If Billy can’t learn to his as a member of the Reds, he can’t learn to hit as a member of the Bats. Odds are he’s just a bad hitter and always will be because of his limited physical strength and inability to control the bat head.

      • I wish I understood the Defensive numbers better, because I’d love to see a realistic comparison between Hamilton and Holt in CF. By all accounts Holt is a very good defensive CF and base runner as well, I’d like to see breakout of projected runs saved above avg/rplcmnt between the two on Defense, projected runs above avg/rplcmnt base running, and runs above avg/rplcmnt created offensively.

        • Unfortunately for us, the only “somewhat reliable” defensive numbers for a player show up after they’ve had multiple seasons of MLB time. And often the two main numbers (DRS and UZR) can often disagree. Some folks distrust of defense stats even goes so far as to invalidate WAR altogether, given their inclusion of defense.

          Generally, range is what gives a CF most of his value (from what I can tell) while arm+range gives corner OF most of their value. I don’t think anyone can realistically match Billy in the range category… but if you get a guy that is still fast, and takes better routes to the ball with a stronger arm, you could possibly match Billy’s overall defensive value.

          To be honest, if Billy’s potential replacement (perhaps Holt) can hit somewhat decently (Say, 80 wRC+) and play 80% of the defense Billy does, while being positive on the bases, they are likely to accumulate the 2.0 WAR Billy would likely accrue anyways.

    • You almost have it right. Holt is the odd man out. He still has options left, if my memory is correct, and will start at AAA. That will leave a spot for BH or Bruce.(or maybe both, depending on how the rest of the roster is shuffled).

  25. This season should be one really long spring training game so I would suggest they try every conceivable line up composition possible.

    It’s ok to suck if you’re building and experimenting.

    • I tend to agree… so why not try giving your best players the most ABs! They’ve never really tried that yet.

      • Totally agree.

        If I live to be a thousand I’ll never understand the desire by many to want this team to squeeze out an extra couple of wins at the cost of not investing the savings in infrastructure and experimenting with players and concepts. Thank God they didn’t sign Dexter Fowler in pursuit of 76 wins and placating the Flat Earth Society.

        • To me, it’s a matter of day-to-day baseball-related happiness that is tied to the day-to-day outcome of my favorite team. So, to me, I get much more fan satisfaction out of a team that goes say 76-86 as opposed to say 62-100. That’s 14 more days out of the summer that in general, the home team wins. We all root, root, root for the home team.

          Most fans don’t see the big picture. They see the now. They see the day-to-day. So to me, there is a huge difference.

  26. Heaven help the Reds if Bruce is the 2nd or 3rd best hitter in the lineup…

    • Well, if he returns to 2010-2013 form, that’s a very good thing. Bruce has been a good hitter more often than a bad hitter in his career.

  27. First if you bat Hamilton anywhere but lead off you might as well have him on the bench. With his speed, he disrupts the pitcher and catcher. The problem is Billy needs to get on base. With that said I think in a month or so Billy will be back in AAA.

    • So they only effective use of the worst hitter on the team is to give him the most at-bats?

  28. I don’t know how anyone else viewed the game yesterday, but the big takeaway for the Old Cossack was Keyvius Sampson’s performance. He was absolutely dominant and his hook was nasty devastating. Sampson has been a starter his entire career, but if he can duplicate and continue that performance through spring training, he has a reserved seat for the Reds bullpen on opening day.

    I think Stephenson and Reed still need work before any promotion to the show, but I’m no less excited about their prospects as future stars in the Reds starting rotation, just give them time to fully develope before promoting them.

    Moscot, Stephenson and Reed all pitched 2 innings, but Finnegan only pitched 1 inning in their 1st outing of the spring. I know Finnigan had a tough inning due to the poor defense behind him, but was his pitch count that high to shut him down after only 1 inning?

    • I think it was more a matter of wondering what the 2nd inning would do to his pitch count. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

  29. Votto is the perfect 2 hitter. Putting a guy with questionable speed whom is your most productive overall hitter at leadoff is silly. If Cozart can consistently produce like last year prior to injury, thats your leadoff hitter w/ Suarez batting 3rd, Bruce 4th(assuming he’s not totally washed) and Phillips in 5 hole. And NEVER. EVER bat the pitcher 8th over Hamilton unless he hits as well as Leake. Thats just stupid.
    The caveat to this all is Hamilton could be the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the game if he can just his OBP to .330.

    • Ahh, I apologize for being silly. I’ll refrain from doing so in the future.

      I’m certainly glad you have everything figured out, and with such good data to back up your claims.

  30. For this year, I’m not going to worry about lineups that much. Honestly, to me, this year is what we should have been doing in Hamilton’s first season, going with the youngsters and simply watch development. But, they overachieved the first half of the year and everyone got on the bandwagon of getting a division winner, etc. And, then, a little bit over the last 2 off seasons, they followed through with the initial stages of rebuilding.

    Nope, even if they overachieve this season, I really wouldn’t even consider worrying about getting a division winner “this season”. Follow through with the rebuilding. One season of getting rid of some contracts means essentially nothing if you don’t follow through now. For instance, if I recall how the Astros and Cubs took it, they spend several seasons getting rid of all their big contracts, packing in the minor league prospects, drafting well, to what they have now. With what the Reds have done so far, nope, they aren’t there yet, not by a mile.

    This season, little need to worry about wins, lineups, etc. More of a need worry about player development. Does Hamilton hit better? Does Bruce finally pick it up? Can Suarez repeat last season? Can Devin come back? Can Peraza step up? And, especially for me, can the young pitching staff step up? Can the young pitchers show some maturity over last season?

    I’ve said since last summer when announced, I still don’t believe Homer is going to be ready for a major league start by AS break. And/or he won’t be “himself” until next season.

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